Sally Chilver's Field Diary

Sally Chilver's field diary covers a few days visit to the chiefdom of Bum in June 1960. It is the centrepiece of the Working Notes on the Kingdom of Bum that she compiled and distributed in 1993. Her brief visit to Bum is fondly remembered. She and Phyllis Kaberry were warmly received and their enquiry greatly assisted by the Fon and seniors of the chiefdom. The mountain top fastness location of the Fon's palace struck a romantic chord that was enhanced by the tales of the past glories and importance of the chiefdom as a 19th century entrepôt for trade with the north. Sally Chilver's diary presents us with thick Geertzian ethnographic description as well as personal notes that very clearly indicate the circumstances of the fieldworker! She goes so far as to include indications of where her thoughts (or hearing!) departs from that of her friend and collaborator Phyllis Kaberry. Indeed, one may usefully contrast the very deeply descriptive passages in the field diary with Kaberry's more topic-focussed field notes. Sally gives a very striking picture of the exchange between the anthropologists and their informants. In one particular instance this story-telling exchange results in a most remarkable tale concerning the origin of elephants. Offered as entertainment this tale actually speaks volumes about the nature of power and agency in the chiefdoms of the Cameroon Grassfields.

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For further information contact Ian Fowler